Artist Interview with Katie Poterala

This interview is a part of a rolling series I am working on about The Business of Being an Artist.  I will be interviewing all different types of artists, galleries, and professionals in art-based careers about their take on how to be a successful established artist.

It is my hope that this information will be helpful to an artist out there who is trying to make it.

xx M


Katie Poterala

 Jewelry Designer | Fine Artist

How did you get into metals?
I first fell in love with metals during high school, while taking a class at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, SC.

Have you always loved jewelry?

Yes. I inherited a love for jewelry as a child, most definitely from my grandmother. It's funny, though, that I only have become interested in making jewelry in the last year and a half or so. I always was sure I wanted to be an artist, but never considered being a jewelry designer, even while pursuing my BFA and MFA in metalsmithing. Looking back, I'm not sure why I didn't see this before -- the interest was there all along.

Why jewelry over larger sculptural objects?

Most of my artistic career has been focused on sculptural objects, including many of my more recent statement/fine art jewelry pieces, although they all tend to be 'small' in scale when thinking about sculpture in general. I became attracted to fine metalsmithing instantly. I think it's a combination of getting lost in and obsessing over the details, the intimacy of the size of the objects, the ability to work in a scale that I am comfortable with, and the relationship potential that small and functional objects have in relation to the body and to other people. Take heirlooms for example -- they're almost always functional, and almost always under 20" in size. I really get into the conceptual and contextual meaning of jewelry and objects -- which makes this a perfect match for me.

Working large poses some physical limitations for me due to some health issues -- but if there's something I want to make, I don't let this stop me. From time to time, I experiment with larger pieces, when the idea is important to me. For example, I just did a series of modified mirrors, still concerned with issues relevant to jewelry. I also hand built Oak display cases with steel legs and fixtures, utilizing blacksmithing techniques. There are images of these in the 'Decadence + Decay' section of my website:

Favorite medium to work with?

I'm not sure I have one favorite -- but I tend to be attracted to materials that allow me to achieve texture and unique surface quality. Some of the materials I've been using most recently are: powder coat, brass and copper modified with chemical patinas, and enamel. My work is all about combining materials, so you'll find some precious stones and metals thrown in there sometimes, too. I love the combination of high and low perceived value, and am freer to explore ideas and experiment technically using these materials in combination.

Favorite jeweler/artist?

This is a tough one. I'm finding new amazing artists/jewelers every day. I tend to be most attracted to work that is very different from my own. Some of my favorites are Amy Tavern, Jennifer Trask, Michael Dale Bernard, Todd Reed, and Lisa Gralnick.

Favorite color?

This changes, often. I am always very attracted to whites, grays, and neutral colors. Right now, though, I really like coral and yellow.

Where do you sell your work?

I sell at various galleries and shops across the country, as well as through my website and a UK company online.

Any other sources of income?

I also do commission pieces for private collectors, contract work for other artists, and teach all levels of classes, from beginner to advanced.

What does your typical day look like?

Currently, my typical day is split about 50/50 between doing administrative work (website modification and updates, marketing, answering emails, applying to calls for entry, blogging, taking care of class details, shipping out work, etc.) and producing my own work in the studio.

What do you spend the most time on in your work?

I spend a ton of time on the computer, believe it or not. Much more than I ever would have anticipated. This is because I manage my own website and do all of my own graphics, which is great as a young artist just starting out, but can be very time consuming when I'd rather be making things! In the studio, most time is spent cleaning up and finishing work. It takes way more time to file, sand, and finish pieces than it does to form and solder them. I also use a lot of patinas and surface modifications, which can at times be tedious, as they are carefully applied and reapplied until I get the exact effect I am looking for.

Favorite part of your job?

My work is all about interaction and perception. I love the excitement a person gets when viewing or handling my work for the first time, and watching their surprise to discover something radically different than what they're used to. I thrive off of being able to open people up to something different, and to expose them to the still thriving world of the well made, handmade object. It's really rewarding to see people get excited about objects that they can personally invest in, things that possess a story and history. We've become so detached from objects in our culture because everything is mass produced and disposable. It's so refreshing to see people find value in something handmade.

Least favorite part of your job?

The dry administrative stuff: business paperwork and such. I don't hate it, and it's necessary, but I'd love to just be able to shut myself up in my studio, jam out to 90's music, and play with my torch all day.

How do you approach a gallery?

I've done a variety of things. Unfortunately, there is no 'right' way to do it. Some gallery owners prefer email, some delete them. Some may notice a postcard sent through the mail, others have a special stack for them next to the trash can. Some want a personal drop in, and some will send you away before you can even say your name. I always scout a place out first, to make sure it's somewhere my work would fit into and to determine if it seems like a reputable business. If I can make the drive in person, I go in person, and leave physical information. If it's out of my reach geographically, and I really want to pursue a place, I'll email them with a link to my website.

What works when approaching a gallery?

I'm not a hundred percent sure that anything does. So many things have to fall into place to make a connection with a gallery. Personally, I've gotten the best responses by showing up in person with a no pressure attitude, good photographs, and something to leave behind with my information on it.

What has not worked when approaching a gallery?

Email, in my opinion, is not the best approach. I have gotten responses this way, but I have a suspicion that many times they hit the 'trash' folder without ever being opened. Having said that, in my opinion it's still worth a shot since it's quick and virtually cost free, especially if it's a gallery that's far away.

How did you learn how to ‘sell yourself’ as an artist?

Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of direct focus on professional development topics when I was in school, however one of the best things I learned was how to write and talk about my work. This is so important, because all of the other contributing factors to selling myself have found their foundations in this skill. Although typical expectations for professionalism in the art world tend to be a bit more lax, I think that there is still value in dressing professionally (at least decently) at events and meetings (avoiding the artist/genius grunge look). It is also crucial to be punctual, have good follow through, and be able to interact well with other people. If people like you as a person, or have a good first impression, they are way more likely to appreciate your work and develop a relationship with you or your product. I know a lot of stereotypical artist types, and unfortunately many of them aren't meeting their full potential because they've bought into the lazy, sometimes careless lifestyle that our society associates with creatives. It's just not professional, no matter how good you are at your craft.

There are also the technical things that shouldn't be overlooked, like killer photographs, uniform styling throughout your marketing collateral, and using spell check and professionalism in correspondence.

What are your goals?

I have a ton of goals, and they're always growing! My main goal is to be able to create a sustainable creative career for myself that allows me to produce my own work and continue to contribute to the growth and support for the craft and art fields.

How big do you want your business got get?

I would love for it to get big enough that I could have an assistant or two to help out with some of the business related tasks, freeing me up to design and make more pretty things. I'd have no problem bringing on more makers, too, which would be great because it would mean there's a growing value for the handmade. I definitely don't have ambitions to become a gigantic cliche 'designer' brand that everyone knows by name. That's not what Katie Poterala jewelry is about. It's more personal than that. It will remain handmade, artistic in concept, and designed for a bold and inquisitive wearer.

We are a BYOW art studio based in Greenville, SC. We offer art instruction - primarily painting lessons - to children and adults.
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